Germany calls up last conscripts as army is reformed

A new recruit arrives at Julius Leber barracks in Berlin, Germany (3 Jan 2011) Critics of conscription say it has prevented modernisation

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Germany's final batch of conscripts are beginning their military service ahead of a radical overhaul of the country's armed forces.

Some 12,000 recruits have been called up - the last before conscription ends altogether on 1 July.

The German government is seeking to make the armed forces smaller and more focussed, with professional soldiers.

Correspondents say the changes are the biggest since the German military was reformed after World War II.

Conscription was introduced after Germany's defeat in 1945 in an attempt to ensure the military would never again become an elitist force with its own political power.

The idea was that an army drawn from wider society would be less likely to serve any future dictator.

But as the role of the army has changed in recent years - with Germany becoming involved in international operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan - critics have complained that compulsory military service has been helping to prevent its modernisation.

Last year Germany announced it would suspend conscription and transform the military, or Bundeswehr, into a fully professional army.

That process would see the size of the standing army reduced from 240,000 to around 185,000 soldiers.

The changes are also expected to cut costs by reducing the bureaucratic apparatus.

Volunteers will still be able to serve for up to 23 months.

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